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Loran Smith: Major-league payday won’t change things for former UGA pitcher Boggs

DALTON —

Mitchell Boggs, who received a hefty raise last week, is about to begin his sixth professional season, his fourth full year with the team. He has a World Series ring and made $506,000 last year, tying a club record with 78 relief appearances, and will reportedly make $1.475 million this season.

Life is good for the former Bulldogs pitcher whose due diligence is a hallmark as he plies his trade as the Cardinals’ setup pitcher on a team that expects to compete for a World Series opportunity each year. Boggs feels “blessed” to have roster status with an organization with a history of winning and a corporate attitude that accentuates the positive. St. Louis invests in championships. Only the storied New York Yankees have collected more World Series titles than the Cardinals. Boggs is familiar with the history of his team. He likes it, and he wants to contribute to an effort to bring another title to the city know as the “Gateway to the West.”

This offseason has been no different from last year and the year before and the year before that. Boggs works as hard when there are no games to play. He knows that if you don’t perform in today’s game, you can lose your roster status faster than it takes him to fire a fastball from the mound to the catcher’s mitt.

On a rainy day here recently, Boggs reflected on his life and career, underscoring the attitude of the organization and its positive influence. “We start out in spring training every year expecting to win the whole thing,” he said. “It is tough to win in any sport, and baseball seems to reward the team which is hot late in the year. That was the way it was with us in 2011. We barely got into the playoffs and won the World Series. Last year, San Francisco got hot and nobody could beat them. We had a pretty good team, even without Albert Pujols, but lost to the Giants, who just dominated the Tigers in the World Series. I think that surprised a lot of people.”

Perhaps, the idiosyncrasies of the game can be summed up by Rangers manager Ron Washington, who is wont to say about the vicissitudes of the game: “That is the way baseball goes.” Boggs understands the percentages of playing the game.

You start by working hard and you don’t take a break until the season is over. When it is finally done, you stalk a deer in the early mornings and work out during the day. Fun is watching the Catamounts play football in the fall. He was a strong-armed quarterback for the local high school team and led his it to a Class AAA state championship. He passed for 2,224 yards (18 touchdowns) and rushed for 684 yards (12 touchdowns). At the University of Georgia, he helped pitch the Bulldogs to the 2004 College World Series.

The off season is a time when you prepare yourself, if you are a pitcher, for the seven-month grind of a major league schedule. Boggs has learned the more you prepare in November, December and January, the better you will be in the crucial months of September and October. “The last three years,” he says with appreciation, “I have been stronger in September than in April.”

That means in a big game when the pennant races are heating up and he gets the call from the bullpen as the Cardinals setup pitcher, he might hum one across the plate at 100 mph. He expects his fastball to clock out at 96-97 mph. While his fastball is his bread-and-butter pitch, he doesn’t rely on it exclusively. “I had good success with my change-up last year. What you want is consistency.” Last year he got exactly what he wanted. He posted a 4-1 record with a 2.21 ERA, playing in 78 games.

Those are impressive numbers, the kind of numbers which, in today’s baseball world, make for millionaire pitchers. But the payday won’t turn Boggs’ head. He’ll still come home, watch the Catamounts in late fall, stalk a big buck and keep himself in peak condition for the spring. Underscoring the work ethic is one way to keep you job in big league baseball.

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